Darina Allen’s Postcard From The Westcoast

On a recent WHIRLWIND RESEARCH TRIP taking in San Francisco, Portland and Los Angeles, DARINA ALLEN shares her FAVOURITE FOODIE ADDRESSES

 

My first stop was San Francisco, where, it’s been said, there are now more dogs than babies. Entrepreneurial millennials are making up to $200k per year providing dog walking and other services for techpreneurs. What also struck me is how the rising price of properties is stifling the once-creative restaurant start-up scene – almost 90 per cent fail. Many businesses are now finding it difficult to get staff because of extortionate rental prices in the city.

As a result, I didn’t find quite as much innovation in San Francisco on this particular trip, though the whole artisanal chocolate bean-to-bar trend is huge (try Dandelion Chocolate at 740 Valencia Street) as are the legalised cannabis stores – cannabis in everything from ice-cream to cookies. Ferments were everywhere as were aisles of food supplements, lots of elixirs, shots of turmeric and upscale home delivery meal kits offering pre-prepared ingredients. Everybody is talking about vegan and plant-based diets – it’s practically a cult …

Must-visits are the The Meraki Market (927 Post Street) which is a posh deli, B Patisserie on California Street for superb kouign-amann (a Breton cake) and other good things and The Mill bakery (736 Divisadero Street), where people line up for Josey Baker’s toast in the morning. While sourdough is still huge, the US seems to be discovering toasted wholegrains (from $4–$7 a slice). Favourite toppings I tried included cinnamon sugar with butter and sea salt, and ghee and sea salt on “Adventure Bread” – an oat loaf packed with nuts and seeds.

BiRite (550 Divisadero Street) is a superbly stocked supermarket, selling organic raw milk (which we sell in our shop) and raw butter (for $19.99 a pound). Another stalwart I love to revisit is Boulette’s Larder (1 Ferry Building, Suite 48) where I had an amazing Turkish- inspired Mozza pizza with spiced lamb, a drizzle of tahini, crumbled feta and lots of flat parsley. Don’t miss the superb chilaquiles at Primavera in Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market (1 Ferry Building Marketplace); so many tempting food stalls and fantastic Barhi dates, which I tried for the first time.

Probably the most exciting new development in San Francisco is Tartine Manufactory – Chad Robertson, Cortney Burns and Nicolaus Balla have created a really exciting space (595 Alabama Street) which includes a café, fermentary and exhibition space and, of course, a bakery turning out the outstanding range of sourdough breads for which Tartine is justly famous.

I always email ahead of trips to arrange a meet-up with Ballymaloe alumni. We had dinner at Nopa (560 Divisadero Street) – delicious food as ever. On another evening we couldn’t get into its sibling Nopalito (306 Broderick Street) so my friend ordered a take-out and as we ate the food out of the cardboard container around her kitchen table.
I realised it was the first time in all of my 69 years I had ever eaten a takeaway!

Before leaving, I spent a day in Berkeley. Don’t miss The Gardener (1836 Fourth Street) or the savoury porridge at Bartavelle Coffee & Wine Bar (1603 San Pablo Avenue). Lunch or dinner at Alice Water’s Chez Panisse (1517 Shattuck Avenue) is a must – book ahead and tell them I sent you – still fantastic after 45 years in business.

Next stop Portland, Oregon, where you’ll discover a thriving craft brewery scene and over 600 registered food carts in eight or nine pods around the city. Don’t miss Cartopia (SE12th and Hawthorne Boulevard) offering every kind of cuisine, each with a story to tell – check out iconic Chicken and Guns, Pyro Pizza, El Brasero, Tahrir Square, Perierra Crêperie and the Korean cart that does the amazing bibimbap. My visit coincided with heavy snow showers and sleet, though that didn’t prevent queues forming for the fancy small ice-cream at Salt and Straw (Alberta Street). Americans love to queue, I realised – in all weathers, over 100 in this line in sub-zero temperatures.

Don’t miss Pok Pok (3226 SE Division Street,) serving Thai street food. I also noticed that eggs were making a comeback and starring on lots of food cart menus, brioche buns with fried eggs, egg sarnies, egg pots, build your own omelette – this seems to be a theme.

Alberta Street in Portland’s graffitied Arts district, is worth schlepping out to. There are cool shops and cafés galore. I also hugely enjoyed the Silver Needle tea at Townsends tea shop and also Bollywood Theater (2039 NE Alberta) – a restaurant opened by former Chez Panisse chef Troy Maclarty. I also loved the eclectic food at Shalom Y’all (1128 SW Adler), where a former student, Natalie Gullish, is head chef.

And finally LA, where I only had two days … torture. I stayed at Philippe Starck’s funky Mama Shelter hotel because of its proximity to Universal Studios where I was a guest on the Home and Family show with my new book, Grow, Cook, Nourish. First-timers should visit the recently revamped Grand Central Market (317 S Broadway). Don’t miss the Egg Slut, GB Coffee, Belcampo Butchers and Claire’s Bakery, though be advised the traffic can be gridlocked, making trips hard to plan. I accidentaly ran into Ballymaloe House’s head pastry chef JR Ryall, who takes two months off each year to travel and research. We had lunch in Sqirl (720 N Virgil Avenue), a restaurant on everyone’s LA list and it’s just as good as they say … so too is Nancy Silverton’s Osteria and Mozza Pizzeria next door (660 Melrose Place). I can still taste the fontina, mozzarella and sottocenere pizza topped with crispy sage leaves.

Now that Aer Lingus flies direct to LA, as does the Ethiopian Airlines Dreamliner – here are my suggestions for places to stay. Try The Ambrose; an eco-friendly boutique hotel in Santa Monica (1255 20th Street) and Farmer’s Daughter (115 S Fairfax Avenue) across the street from The Grove, which has a huge farmers’ market, is centrally located and great fun. For old school fans, Hotel Bel-Air is pure luxury with Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant on the premises (701 Stone Canyon Road), or Shutters on the Beach (1 Pico Boulevard). Some believe the latter is over-priced but it’s on the beach and pretty gorgeous … 

Penny McCormick

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